Note- This is a personal take on HAHK on the occasion of its 20th Anniversary today (5th August, 2014) and not a typical review of the film.
Hum Aapke Hain Koun or HAHK as it is referred to popularly is an iconic movie in many ways. If I’m not mistaken the whole trend of referring to a movie’s title by its abbreviated form probably started with QSQT (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak) before HAHK and DDLJ (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge) went on to make it look like it was something that the Indian movie audience was doing it for years together. By now it is already known to even small kids across the Country (yes even in those distant lands which probably do not even boast of a single cinema theatre even today) how Maine Pyar Kiya went on to revive the fortunes of Rajshri Productions, an age old production and distribution house which was almost on the verge of closing down due to dwindling fortunes.
But Sooraj Barjatya, the grandson of Tarachand Barjatya, the founder of Rajshri not only revived the firm but also made it relevant to the youth of those times, despite holding on to the values that the firm believed in. Hence unlike in case of Maine Pyar Kiya, HAHK was quite looked forward to when it was about to be released. The trade was anxious to see if Sooraj Barjatya could pull it off once again and prove that he wasn’t a one film wonder. Also the film’s lead pair- Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit were by then extremely popular and the songs by Raamlaxman, though too many in number for a Hindi film in the 90’s (14 in all) were already popular before the release. Rajshri Productions decided to go in for a staggered release for the film, with HAHK getting released in only the main centres for Hindi films and even the bigger cities including the Metros did not have more than a few theatres playing the film. The idea was to let the film gain popularity and WOM (word of mouth), facilitating both trade and audience enquiry in the rest of the country and hence leading to more release centres getting added subsequently.
It was a big gamble as trade experts even wondered how a film which was just about fourteen songs, two weddings and a funeral would sustain the buzz for long to favour a staggered release. But lo and behold Sooraj Barjatya and his team seemed to have got it right as the film which started off with a grand premiere at Mumbai’s Liberty Cinema went on to release on 5th August, 1994 across limited theatres in India, soon started getting inquiries from the rest of the Country. In fact HAHK was also probably the 1st film in India to release in Ultra Stereo Optical Sound, and with more and more theatres clamoring for a print of the film, the Rajshri’s insisted on theatres to be upgraded by installing Ultra Stereo Optical Sound systems along with regular requirements. Today it is difficult to even imagine the makers of a film refusing to let their film release in a single screen or multiplex unless it’s upgraded. But Sooraj Barjatya and Rajshri Productions were clear that they not only had a winner on their hands but also that HAHK was bringing the family audience back to the theatres and hence they should watch the film in the most comfortable way.
So what was I doing around 5th August 1994? Well I was out of school/junior college and waiting for the results of some of the many entrance exams I had written. The TNPCEE (Tamil Nadu Professional Courses Entrance Examination) results in particular were delayed and like many other peers I had joined a leading Arts, Science & Commerce College in Coimbatore for B.Sc Zoology so that I would have a backup plan, just in case I didn’t get a professional course and college of my liking later on. I was in Coimbatore then and despite being it being the only other regular Hindi film release centre in the state (apart from Chennai) those days, HAHK did not make it to Coimbatore on 5th August. Those were the pre-internet days but still thanks to film magazines, radio (Vividhbharati to be precise), the few satellite T.V channels available then like Zee T.V and Star, one knew that HAHK was taking the Country by storm. Added to it whenever I would interact with friends and/or relatives from Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore etc, everyone would only keep raving about the film, adding to my discomfort all the more.
Archana & Darsana are 2 theatres in a 2 screen Cineplex (Baba Cinemas) in one of the best locations in Coimbatore. The patrons running the 2 theatres were supposed to be very professional, would constantly upgrade and renovate them and exhibit the best of Tamil, Hindi, English and Malayalam movies. Hence it was no surprise when I got to know that HAHK would be releasing at Archana and the theatre management even went on to put up the stills of the film under the “Coming Soon” display window (remember those days? 🙂 ) a few weeks after the film had originally released on 5th August. By that time my TNPCEE results were out and I had got admission in a good college in Coimbatore itself, which meant that the wait for HAHK continued. Weeks slowly started turning into months as in October my 1st year classes commenced (I had already discontinued my B.Sc program earlier once I got through to pharmacy and engineering) but still there was no sign of HAHK releasing in Coimbatore.
So much so that whenever I would visit Archana and Darsana to watch movies I would only sigh with despair on seeing the movie stills of HAHK. I even debated visiting Chennai and watching it at Woodlands Theatre, where the film was doing roaring business and I still do not remember why I finally went there only months later, by which time I had already seen it a few times in Coimbatore itself. I guess it was sometime post Diwali of 1994 that not only were the stills of HAHK put up on display at Archana & Darshana changed, but also a notice of sorts saying something to the effect of “The wait for HAHK is almost over. The film which has already crossed 100 days in the initial release centres will soon be releasing here. We are proud to say that HAHK will be the 1st film to get released here with the new Ultra Stereo Optical Stereo Sound system which will be installed soon”. Eventually after a long, long wait HAHK made it to Archana theatre at Coimbatore and despite the film being already 4-5 months old, and despite pirated video cassettes being available, it was surprising to see the kind of overwhelming response that the film received in the city.
While I had myself avoided the lure of watching it on video, I had never imagined that there would be many others like me also who did the same. I finally watched HAHK on the very weekend it released and was blown away by Madhuri Dixit who played the chulbuli Nisha to perfection. That was the time when probably Madhuri mania was at its all time high and there was no way I could have escaped it :).Yes there were too many songs, the film’s story could very easily have been just a one liner and it was too sugar coated for comfort, but it still worked, and that’s when I realized the enormity of the whole phenomena. While I did find it a little difficult to get a ticket the first time around, I attributed it to the opening weekend in the city and hence 2-3 weeks later when I went back to watch it again with my parents and brother I was surprised to see that even the advance booking for the film during the weekends was getting to be quite a task. Needless to say I had to make use of someone I knew to get the tickets and this time around as well, I saw families flocking in to the theatre, literally having a gala time and watching this 206 minute long film. Many of them seemed to return again and again as one could make out from the way they would describe the scenes and dialogues before the film or during the interval :).
Sometime later I guess the “Chocolate Lime Juice” song which was not in the film originally was also introduced into the film as an added attraction and the newspaper ads clearly mentioned the same as well. I distinctly remember the 3rd time I saw it in theatre and this must have been in 1995 as I went for the same along with more than half of my classmates and a couple of professors as well. Considering that we needed some 35-40 tickets and since the person at the box office was unwilling to give it to us, I had to once again depend upon my usual source to get us the tickets. By then I was well versed with the dialogues and the scenes and hence would exclaim them loudly while watching the film, not bothered to think if I am disturbing people around me or not. And very soon a gentleman sitting in front of me turned around and told me “you may have seen the film a few times already, but this is the 1st time I am watching it and hence I request you not to spoil it for me”. That was when I not only kept quiet but also realized that the actual fun associated with watching a movie was by soaking into it and not by making an ass of oneself.
By this time around the movie had gone on to release in many more cities and towns across India and the saree used by Madhuri Dixit in the “Didi Tera Devar Deewana” song had become extremely popular and there were clones of the same being sold all over the Country. One innovative saree showroom in Coimbatore tied up with the management of Baba Cinemas and hence a model of the saree design was put up in a display counter right next to the balcony entrance, so that none of the patrons could miss it. I do not know if the promotion helped bring in additional sales for the showroom but considering the unit price of 500 INR and with so many women flocking in to watch the film, it would have been a surprise if they had not made money with the same. By this time while I could still watch the film thanks to Madhuri and some of the songs, I found it a little too difficult to sit through the whole proceedings especially post the death of Renuka Shahane when there’s a little too much of emotional melodrama on display :). HAHK eventually went on to run for 16+ weeks at Archana, very remarkable considering that the film released so late in the city.
But the story did not end there as the film continued to regularly get repeated across the city in various theatres as “filler” that could always be counted upon to run for a week easily. The last time I saw the film in theatre was probably in 1998 during one such re-run, this time at Ambalika Theatre (which is now Kumaran of the Senthil-Kumaran twin theatres), Coimbatore. Despite the film being more than 3 years old I was pleasantly surprised to see more than 50 % turnout for the night show and like me quite a few others also exited the hall after watching Renuka Shahane die :). I guess by then I was slowly moving out of the Sooraj Barjatya zone, as a year later when Hum Saath Saath Hain released I barely managed to stay in control till the end of the 1st and only show of it that I watched in theatre (Albert Theatre, Chennai). When I look back in time I do sometimes laugh at all that happened those days and even wonder as to how I probably felt so much for such a “sugar coated” film, but then despite all that I still think that the film was certainly a trailblazer and as much as you may like it or dislike it now, its place in the annals of Indian Cinema is clearly well etched.
Note- The HAHK @ Liberty Cinema image courtesy Mumbai Heritage